THE UNGA PARTITION PLAN, 1947 – THE 1948 WAR & THE 1949 ARMISTICE LINES
In early 1947, Britain announced its submission of the Palestine problem to the UN; its representative told
the UNGA in May, “[w]e have tried for years to solve the problem... we now bring it to the United Nations in
the hope that it can succeed where we have not.” At the same session, an 11-member Special Committee
on Palestine (UNSCOP) was appointed to investigate the Palestine Question and prepare proposals for its
solution. It was to be the 11th official committee of inquiry since 1919 and the 19th investigative body
dispatched to the Mandate in 25 years.
UNSCOP members arrived in Palestine in June 1947 and gathered information and testimonies until July,
completing their report by late August. In September a so-called Ad-Hoc Committee was established to
examine two proposals. The first plan called for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state,
with Jerusalem and its environs under an international Corpus Separatum administration. This plan had the
majority backing of the UNSCOP members, while a second plan, similar to the Morrison-Grady scheme
(see Map 10), was supported by a minority. The Ad-Hoc Committee drew conflicting conclusions in its
examination of the majority plan. In real terms, the proposal granted the Zionists a state in 56.47% of
Palestine, leaving the Palestinians with 42.88% and creating an international zone of around 0.65%. In the
proposed Jewish state the population was put at 905,000 - 498,000 Jews and 407,000 Palestinian Arabs.
However, the Ad-Hoc Committee’s discovery of an ‘oversight’ with regard to the Bedouin population added
105,000 Arabs to the demography, placing the Jews in a minority and yet submitting over half a million
indigenous Arabs to minority status. In the Arab state, only 10,000 Jews would remain among 725,000
Arabs, while in the Jerusalem zone there would be some 100,000 Jews and 105,000 Arabs (see Map 52).
The plan gave the Zionists all or a part of 10 of the 16 sub-districts, in nine of which Jews were a minority.
One report of the Ad-Hoc Committee noted that the proposal allotted the Beersheba district to the Jewish
state, remarking “[i]t is surprising that the majority of an international committee such as [UNSCOP] should
have recommended the transfer of a completely Arab territory and population to the control of the Jews,
who form less than 1% of the population, against the wishes and interests of the Arabs, who form 99% of
The majority (partition) proposal was nonetheless adopted by the UNGA on 29 November 1947, with
Resolution 181. The injustice of partition has been summarized by Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi as
follows: “They [the Palestinians] failed to see why it was not fair for the Jews to be a minority in a unitary
Palestinian state, while it was fair for almost half of the Palestinian population - the indigenous majority on
its ancestral soil - to be converted overnight into a minority under alien rule.” Every represented regional
state voted against the plan, Britain abstained. Resolution 181 stipulated a two-month interim period
following British withdrawal, wherein a UN Palestine Commission would transfer authority. This was never to
The day after UN Resolution 181 was passed, the Haganah called up all Jews between 17 and 25. The next
week the assault on Jaffa (an Arab enclave in the partition plan) commenced. In the six months before
Britain abandoned Palestine (14 May 1948), 380,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes, and at
Deir Yassin (part of the proposed Corpus Separatum), the first of a series of massacres was perpetrated.
British support, both in terms of training and equipment, for the powerful Zionist forces contrasted sharply
with the absolute prevention of Palestinian militarization during the Mandate period. As a result, when war
finally broke out there was only one army in Palestine and the indigenous population was left heavily
dependent on regional intervention; this marked by ulterior and competing motives. When Britain quit the
Mandate, Zionist forces were already in control of some 70% of Palestine. By the end of the war they
would occupy nearly 78% of Palestine, incl. half of all the territory allotted the smaller Arab state in the
partition plan. Transjordan would be in control of the remainder of eastern Palestine - the West Bank - and
Egypt would control the Gaza Strip.
By November 1948, the UNSC was able to initiate the process of demarcating a permanent armistice. Israel
signed an agreement with Egypt in February 1949, with Lebanon in March, with Jordan in April and with
Syria in July. The armistice agreements allowed for four demilitarized zones and four ‘no-man’s land’ areas
(in Jerusalem and near Latrun Monastry).
International efforts to build permanent peace treaties between Israel and the Arab states were short-lived
and ended in failure. The April 1949 Lausanne Conference, where delegates from Israel, Jordan, Syria,
Lebanon and the Arab Higher Committee met under the auspices of the UN’s Palestine Conciliation
Commission (PCC), collapsed when Israel quit in mid-summer. Israel’s position was simple: Delegate Abba
Eban wrote Ben-Gurion, “There’s no need to run after peace. The armistice is enough for us. If we pursue
peace, the Arabs will demand a price of us - borders or refugees or both. Let us wait a few years.”